Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Food Tripping Along The Amalfi Coast


Food Tripping Along The Amalfi Coast

Seafood Salad- Insalata di Mare 

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Octopus, cleaned
Calamari, cleaned
Shrimp, cleaned & shelled
White vinegar
Fresh Parsley, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Juice of 1 large lemon, to taste
Garlic, remove peal, whole
Red pepper, whole

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add a splash of white vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and fresh parsley. When boiling rapidly, add the octopus and boil for about 10 minutes. Next, add calamari (since they cook in less time) and boil together for about another 10-15 minutes until tender. Test with a knife, if the octopus cuts easily, it is ready. Add the shrimp and cook for just about 30 seconds-1 minute, then drain water, and put octopus, calamari and shrimp in a bowl.
Allow to cool a moment then cut octopus and calamari into rings and small pieces using kitchen scissors.

Season with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, fresh lemon juice, a whole clove of garlic, a whole red pepper and fresh parsley. Mix well and taste for seasoning; add salt as desired. Insalata di mare can be served warm or cool on a bed of fresh arugula.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Because Everyone Loves Limoncello - Here's How!



Makes 2 liters

10 organic lemons
1 liter ethyl alcohol
1 liter of sugar syrup (prepared with 1 liter water plus 750 g sugar)
To begin, you need a large glass jar with a lid. Wash the lemons, pat them dry and remove the zest. A vegetable peeler does the job best; it gives you long wide strips of zest with hardly any of the bitter white pith. If you get some of the pith with the zest, carefully scrape it away with the tip of a knife.  Fill the jar with the alcohol and, as you remove the zest, add it to the jar. Mix the ingredients, cover the jar and store it. Now all you need to do is wait. After at least 7 days, combine the sugar and the water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and cook until thickened, about five minutes. Let the syrup cool then add it to the limoncello mixture. Then simply strain the limoncello into bottles and discard the lemon zest.
Keep the bottles in the freezer so it is icy cold until you are ready to drink it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sicily's Taormina

Sicily’s Mythical, Magical Taormina

Corso Umberto I is the pedestrian via that winds its way through the center of Taormina.  Spilling with cafés, food shops, wine bars and artisan workshops, it is bustling today.  Even though this seaside town overlooks the Gulf of Naxos, it’s a steamy 32°C (89°F) today and without a sea breeze in the sky.
     My husband Rino and I arrived early this morning from Calabria, taking the old road from Scalea and onto Castrovillari, Cozenza, Lamezia Terme, Vibo Valentia and San Giovanni.  It was a three-day journey with two overnights along the way, but he’s a former racecar driver and knows these roads by heart.  At San Giovanni, we put the car on the ferry, cross the strait of Messina, and arrive in no time.
     From Messina, it’s another 40 minutes to Taormina a 51-kilometer drive on the Via A18.  We approach the ancient city set on Mount Tauro overlooking the Ionian Sea and are welcomed by ancient walls where no cars are allowed.  Like all places in Sicily, it has a rich and interesting past with invaders, dukes and noblemen who came and left their mark.  First there were the Arabs, Normans, Angevins and then Aragons, to name a few.  But it is its natural beauty and stunning aerial position that has made Taormina a must-stop on every person’s travel map.  

Cassata Siciliana

Gastronome Renato Giani called this intensely sugared dish one of “the two unshakable rocks of Sicilian desserts” with the other being cannoli.  It is traditionally served at Easter feasts, and as an old proverb says, “No one can be without cassata on Easter.”

Serves 8-10

1 large sponge cake, thinly sliced
¼ cup Marsala
1 - ½ cups Ricotta cheese
2/3 cups Caster Sugar (fine sugar)
4 drops Vanilla extract
2 oz candied fruit, finely chopped
2 oz candied Orange peel, chopped
2 oz semisweet chocolate, grated
3 cups Confectioners’ Sugar
4 drops Green Food Coloring
3 tablespoon Water
½ cup Whole Glacé Fruits

Line the sides and bottom of an 8-inch mold with aluminum foil, then line it with sponge cake slices, reserving some to cover the top.  Sprinkle with half the Marsala.

In a blender, combine the ricotta, caster sugar and vanilla and blend on low.   Add the candied fruit, candied peel, and the chocolate and mix until well - blended.

Add this mixture to the mold, cover with the remaining slices of sponge cake, and sprinkle with the remaining Marsala.  Cover the mold with aluminum foil, press down on the molded ingredients, and refrigerate for 3 hours.

In a double boiler, melt the confectioners’ sugar and add the food coloring and water.  Stir well with a wooden spoon and take care that it does not brown.  Unmold the cassata and cover with the icing and the glace fruits.  Slice thinly and serve.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Join us at Cooking Vacations for our Lemon Lifestyle Cooking With Lemons on the Amalfi Coast and learn how!

Delizia Al Limone ~ Lemon Delight


Serves 10 to 12

Pan di Spagna ~ Sponge Cake:
4 Eggs (at room temperature)
120 g Sugar
150 g ‘00’ Flour
Pinch of Salt
1 tsp Vanilla (powdered or liquid) or Lemon Zest
Butter & Flour for the Pan Crema Pasticciera ~ Pastry Cream:
4 Egg Yolks
150 g Sugar
50 g Flour
½ L Whole Milk
Lemon Liquor/Limoncello
Crema Chantilly ~ Chantilly Cream
400 g Pastry Cream
400 g Whipped Cream

Simple Syrup:
1 Liter Water
½ Liter of Sugar
Lemon Liquor

First prepare the sponge cake. Whip eggs with sugar (if the eggs are cold, place in warm water for a few minutes prior to cracking into the sugar) until light and fluffy. Sift flour and salt into the egg mixture, one spoonful at a time, mixing between each addition. Add vanilla or lemon zest and blend well. Pour mixture into a round buttered & floured baking pan (24-cm or about 9 1/2-inch) and bake in a preheated oven at 360°F (180°C) for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.
Next prepare the pastry cream. In a bowl, mix egg yolks with 100 grams of sugar. Slowly add in flour and blend. In a separate pot, heat milk with 50 grams of sugar (lemon zest, chocolate, vanilla beans, coffee beans all optional depending on the flavor that you would like the cream to have). Once the milk comes just to a boil, remove from heat and add to the egg-sugar-flour mixture. Cook over low heat for another 2-3 minutes until the cream has thickened and starts to bubble. Remove from heat, add a splash of Limoncello, cover with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming and allow mixture to cool completely before using (2-3 hours).
Prepare the simple syrup by mixing the water, sugar and a splash of Lemon Liquor in a large saucepan. Heat over medium until the sugar is fully dissolved and the water just starts to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
After the pastry cream is cooled completely, fold 400g of the pastry cream with 400g of whipped cream to make your Chantilly Cream. (You will have some pastry cream left over, which is a great dessert on its own, served with crumbled cookies or fresh berries on top).
To assemble, cut sponge cake in half horizontally. Spoon or drizzle the simple syrup onto the first layer of the sponge cake to moisten. Spoon the Chantilly cream on to the lower half of the sponge cake. Place top piece of sponge cake back on top to cover and spoon the simple syrup to moisten the top layer as well. Top this with the rest of the Chantilly cream. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Heaven In Conca Marini ~ First created in a monastery along the Amalfi Coast, a delicate pastry lives on.



First created in a monastery along the Amalfi Coast, the delicate pastry lives on

Sfogliatella, probably one of the hardest words in Italian to say, is the easiest word to fall in love with. Meaning many small, thin layers, it refers to a traditional dolce consisting of delicately layered pastry filled with a cooked cream. Baked to a golden brown and garnished with cooked pastry cream and one black cherry, sfogliatelle were first created in the Monastery Santa Rosa, in Conca dei Marini, by the holy hands of a nun in the 16th century. With a lot of time on their hands, the nuns prayed and baked all day, and were known to have created the best pastries and desserts in all of Italy.
It was the reverend mother, Clotilde, who headed the kitchen at that time, and who we can thank for this delicious flaky bite. One day, while busy baking, she was said to have added semolina to hot milk and made a cream that she didn’t know what to do with. To heighten the flavor, she added dry citrus fruit and vanilla and then decided to put it between sheets of pastry dough that were brushed with lard and white wine. It was a heavenly recipe made by mistake.

In keeping to her religious order, she pushed up the top of the pastry dough, giving it the shape of a cappuccino di monaco, the hood of a monk, before popping it into the oven to bake. Once baked to a golden brown, she held it close to her nose and thought how she could increase donations with such a sweet smelling pastry. 

She wasted no time and proceeded to put a few of the pastries out in the little revolving wheel in the wall of the convent, hoping someone, anyone, would take one and leave a few coins. Within minutes, the pastries were gone and the sfogliatelle became an instant success. The reverend mother went on to bake more. The more she baked, the more coins were left—everyone liked the combi- nation of crispy, buttery layers stuffed with cooked cream and topped with a black cherry.  She dedicated the pastry to the convent
and called it La Sfogliatella Santa Rosa.

Her recipe remained a secret and was confined within the monastery walls for 150 years. Then one day, the sfogliatella appeared in a sweet shop on Via Toledo in Naples. A man by the name of Pasquale Pintauro, who happened to be the nephew of one of the Santa Rosa nuns, had gotten hold of the recipe and began making them in a revised rendition, eliminating the dome top and black cherry.  Soon sfogliatelle became popular
around the world.

The story of sfogliatelle is so fascinating that I decided to hop in my Fiat 500 and drive to the Monastery of Santa Rosa to see just how they are made. It is a 40-minute drive along the Strada Statale 163 from Positano to Conca dei Marini through a vertical land- scape where mountains surge from the sea and a horizontal road is carved into the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian. The scenery is an explosion of colors—the sea tones change from emerald green to indigo blue, and  
blakets of green citrus orchards line terraces bur- geoning with lemons the color of the sun.

You’ll know you are close when you make the sharp curve after the Grotta dello Smeraldo, the green grotto. The majestic monastery appears several hundred feet above the road. Cut into a limestone cliff, it overlooks the Amalfi Coast, keeping watch like a Saracen defense tower.

Gone are the nuns in the kitchen. Monastery Santa Rosa is now a hotel, resort & spa. Executive chef Christoph Bob, a German, is now at the helm of the kitchen at Ristorante Il Refettorio, the on-site restaurant. He has taken the original recipes from this holy kitchen’s past and added his interpretation for a light and modern twist, and the sfoglia- tella is one of them. 
As I follow his instruction on how to make the perfect sfogliatella, he shares his story on how he landed in Italy. “I not only fell in love when I came here, I fell in love with the food. Nowhere on earth does the sun and the soil give us such richness of flavors as do the fresh produce, herbs, and seafood found right here on our coast,” he says.

After rolling and stu ng each pastry, they’re put in the oven to bake. Chef Bob then invites me to visit the original herb garden that was once cultivated by nuns. Perfectly manicured, the garden includes herbs like basil, mint, and rosemary, as well as vegetables such as eggplant, artichokes and toma- toes, and anything else in season.

“Our herb and vegetable garden is just two steps out of the kitchen and we grow the same herbs the nuns grew 300 years ago,” says Chef Bob. He leans over and picks a couple of  
zucchini from the vine.

“We use these to make local pasta and zucchini with provolone cheese. Our cuisine is traditional with classics such as puttanesca, where I use fresh tuna, which is lighter. There is saltimbocca, which is veal, prosciutto and sage, rolled up and cooked in dry white wine. I braise the veal slowly, not boiling it, so it keeps the proteins. We keep traditions and revisit them in modern way, so there is less fat,” he says.
We discuss how the nuns and monks throughout history were the ones creating the best food, medicine and liqueurs. “Dom Pérignon was the first to make Champagne in a monastery, like beer, wine and medicine, too, also born in a monastery. It’s easy to work in such a place with rich history of food, products and ingredients,” he tells me.  Chef Bob’s love a affair with Italian cuisine is displayed on every plate that comes out of the kitchen: his signature appetizer, a trio of crustaceans—lobster with chickpea puree and smoked olive oil broad bean salad; ravioli with king prawns, Corbara tomatoes and candied lemon; and fusilli pasta with calamari-amaretti, baby squid and piennolo tomatoes smothered with eggplant and basil, to name a few.

 "I'm happy to have spaghetti. I think spaghetti with tomato sed the right spaghetti, the right tomatoes—not cooked too much and not cooked too little, and not too acidy. It’s complex, not simple, and quite a challenge to make this recauce is one of the most di cult recipes to make because you neipe perfect,” he says.

 The Dominican sisters at Santa Rosa were a strong minded and devotdenomination, but they waned away in the mid-1800s, thought never to be replaced again, until the strong-minded and creative Bianca Sharma, an American, sailed by on a yacht one day and set eyes on the monastery. She eventu- ally purchased the property and worked dili- gently for the next 10 years to renovate it. She converted the former nuns’ domain into a luxury boutique hotel with 20 elegant suites, and turned their wine cantina into an elabo- rate spa.  There is also Ristorante Il Refettorio, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant.

Exotic greenery and landscaped gardens surround an infinity swimming pool that overlooks the sea, all in keeping with the original look and respecting the property’s ancient architecture.

The day Ms. Sharma, my neighbor in Posi- tano, o cially opened, I called to congratulate her. I told her I had followed her story from the first time she sailed by and during the 10 years that followed. She invited me to lunch at Santa Rosa during opening week. That was four years ago. The hotel now is ranked one of the premier luxury properties in the world.

Today, I was lucky enough to return to the kitchen to make sfogliatelle with Chef Bob. The sfogliatella are being dusted with confectioner’s sugar and everything is heavenly.

 Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli is founder and owner of Cooking Vacations Italy  which specializes in culinary tours, hands-on cooking classes and cultural adventures in Italy.; (617) 247-4112.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Panetonne ~ Just out of our Cooking Vacations' oven! ~Italian Christmas Bread

Panetonne is a sweet Christmas bread that was first created in Milan in a small bakery for love. Noble man, Ugheto Atellani, had fallen in love with the poor baker’s daughter, Adalgisa. In order to win her love, he disguised himself as a peasant and offered to work in the bakery. With is wealth, he added lots of butter and candied fruit to the recipe and before you knew it, the simple Medieval bread became a hit. Word of mouth spread, and soon there were a line around the small bakery for Panettone. Eventually the baker, Ugheto confessed what he had done, asked for Adalgisa’s hand in marriage and the couple set their engagement. The duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza arranged the wedding and even Leonardo da Vinci attended. Panetonne was served as the wedding cake and the couple lived happily ever after. Shaped in the form of a cupola, Panetonne recipes vary using pistachio, lemon and orange zest, rum, and even Strega liquer then elaborately decorated.

Cooking Vacations

For the Starter

• 3/4 cup of flour

• 1/16 teaspoon (just a pinch) instant yeast

• 1/3 cup cool water

For the Dough

• All of the starter (mixture from above)

• 2 1/4 cups flour

• 1/4 cup lukewarm water

• 2 large eggs

• 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter

• 1 vanilla bean, slit open

• 1 tablespoon instant yeast

• 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 1/2 cup raisins, pre~soaked in rum or Vin Santo is better!

• 1/2 cup lemon or orange naturally candied fruit

• 1/4 cup of crushed almonds, unshelled

• 1/4 cup of crushed pistachios, unshelled

A handful of whole almonds for garnishing

• 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, from an unwaxed lemon

Sugar pearls for decorating


Mix together all the ingredients for the starter in a wide mixing bowl. When well mixed, leave to rest overnight.

For the Dough

Combine all of the ingredients for the except the fruit, and mix and knead them together by preferably in a mixer with a hoop or by hand, until the dough is soft and workable.

Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. It will be light and airy.

Gently deflate the dough, and knead in the fruits and zest.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a panettone paper lining. Cover and let the dough rise until it's just crested over the rim for approximately 1 hour. Sprinkle a handful of almonds and course sugar, before putting in the oven, on top of the bread.

Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 10 minutes then reduce the oven heat to 350°F and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. When baked, remove the panettone from the oven and leave to cool. Slice and serve with a hot cappuccino or cold Prosecco.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Semifreddo Alla Fruita ~ Fruit Ice Cream Cake

Semifreddo Alla Fruita ~ Fruit Ice Cream Cake
Courtesy of Chef Raffaele, Positano 

3 Eggs
300 g of Mascarpone
300 g Whipped Cream
200 g Sugar
300 g / Red fruits, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries/ Peaches, peeled and remove pit
10 Mint Leaves to garnish
50 g Vodka

Separate egg whites from the yolks.  Save egg whites for later use. Whip the yolks with 100 g of sugar.  When creamy, add mascarpone and mix for 10 seconds. 

Meanwhile, puree the peach with the mint leaves and vodka until smooth. 

Add peach puree to the mascarpone mixture, then fold in the whipped cream carefully so it does not deflate. 

In a separate bowl whip egg whites with the remaining sugar.  Add this to the mascarpone mixture, always folding so the whites do not deflate. 

Place in molds and chill in the freezer for at least 1 day.

By Chloe:)